Controversial rental licensing program moves forward in Skokie
People begin to line up Monday to speak about a controversial plan by the village to license each rental unit in residential buildings. Village Trustees approved drawing up an ordinance. | Mike Isaacs~Sun-Times Media
• Landlord fees would be $25 per unit and a $10 fee per certified owner or managing agent.
• There is a training requirement to become certified. The class would highlight “best practices, crime prevention principles and life safety code issues.”
• There is a requirement to include a crime-free addendum in all leases or have a clause similar to the addendum.
• The village could withhold, suspend or revoke a landlord’s license for individual rental units.
• Landlords of rental dwellings in condominiums and co-ops are exempt for the time being.
Updated: August 20, 2012 11:16AM
SKOKIE — Skokie will draw up a new ordinance calling for multifamily rental housing units in the village to be licensed for the first time.
Village Trustees Monday unanimously approved the Public Safety Commission’s recommendation following a lengthy explanation of the proposal and then more than two dozen public comments — many of them from landlords who argued that the licensing mandate places an unfair burden on them.
This marked at least the third time both sides weighed in on the program, and it probably will not be the last. Although the Village Board’s unanimous vote Monday indicates support for the program, trustees still have to vote on an ordinance once it is drawn up.
The program requires licensing for about 5,000 rental units in about 1,200 buildings excluding condominiums and co-ops in Skokie. Those opposing the program, though, won one concession Monday.
Trustee Don Perille’s amendment calling for owner-occupied two flats to be exempt from the mandate was approved in a 7-2 vote.
Perille, the senior member of the board, said he was set to oppose the program until he heard more details Monday.
“I think I have participated conservatively in well over a thousand meetings like this,” he said. “I almost always learn something. I was not disappointed tonight. I came in here pretty much opposed to what the staff was proposing. I have now become a proponent.”
Under the program, each landlord will be licensed annually for each unit in his or her building. The annual licensing fee is $25 per unit to offset the expense of hiring a police officer to work full-time for the program.
Another $10 fee per certified owner or managing agent also will be charged.
The landlord or manager will have to attend a landlord training class to be certified. The class will highlight best practices, crime prevention principles and life safety code issues, according to the village.
The village can withhold, suspend or revoke a landlord’s license for individual rental units.
Any managing agent or owner entering into a rental lease will also have to include a crime-free lease addendum or have a clause similar to the addendum.
But many building owners believe the program singles them out and makes no distinction between good and bad landlords.
“Why are you beating on the people who are already in compliance?” asked Barbara Kenning, who lives in Skokie and owns a rental building.
This was a common refrain from landlords who said they are already in compliance with state law and take the kind of precautions the village is seeking. They questioned why they need training after years and sometimes decades of being a responsible building owner.
“All of this licensing does not ease the burdens or strengthens the rights of the landlord if we had to remove an unruly tenant,” Kenning said.
Landlords who live in their own buildings were especially incredulous.
“I don’t feel, as an owner occupier, that I should have to pay to live in my own home,” landlord Dana Taylor said. “I already do that. It’s called taxes and mortgage.”
Even with the Perille amendment in place, Taylor will be subject to licensing since his building is a three-flat.
Gail Schechter, executive director of the Interfaith Housing Center of the Northern Suburbs, said the village should do more research before adopting the program.
For one thing, she said, trustees should become better acquainted with existing regulations to see if the licensing program is needed. She also said the program’s potential impact on fair housing needs to be weighed.
Some landlords consider the program a back-ended way for the village to raise revenue.
“This is an unfair solution to a non-existent problem as far as I’m concerned,” said Floyd Bednarz, who owns and occupies a rental building. “It’s a solution looking for a problem. I thought crime statistics are down in Skokie.”
But Skokie Voice, the active residents’ association that supports the program, recently studied crime over the last five years and concluded that simple and aggravated assault and battery, robberies and burglaries have increased during that time. The group believes there is “a clear correlation between frequency of these types of crimes and locales of occurrence in neighborhoods that have higher concentrations of multi-family dwellings.”
The village views the program as a “preventive” measure and says it paves the way for better communication with landlords.
“Skokie issues licenses or certificates of occupancy for businesses that conduct their business in town,” said Assistant Village Manager John Lockerby. “Licensing business activity promotes the health, safety and welfare of the neighborhoods and the community.”
Elyn Sclair, one of the few tenants to speak Monday, also supports the program.
“Most of the landlords and owners I’m sure do a great job,” she said. “But unfortunately, there are some slumlords. Something needs to be done. The street that I live on is terrible.”
Village leaders say that other communities have similar licensing programs, some with more stringent requirements than Skokie’s program. But landlords shot back that most communities in the country do not have such licensing programs.
Perille and some others advocated that landlords of condominiums and co-ops that have evolved into rental dwellings should be subjected to the same licensing.
“A landlord is a landlord is a landlord,” Perille said.
Village officials indicated that the program could include such landlords in the future.